The Alutiiq verb allukulu means to mix together or to stir up. This word is often used in conversations about cooking, and its root, –aku, appears in the word akutaq. Akutaq is a popular Native dish made from Alaska to northern Canada by mixing an assortment of wild ingredients into a base of fat. Depending on where you live, you might use caribou tallow, seal oil, or bear fat as your lard, and add to it a combination of dried or fresh fish, fish roe, meat, greens, and or berries. Every family has its own recipe. Akutaq should not be confused with ciitaq–another popular dish made with berries. Ciitaq means “something mashed.”
The word akutaq comes from the Yup’ik language. Although akutaq has become a desert dish, and now often includes sugar, it was traditionally food for travelers. People mixed foods in fat to prepare an easily transported, filling, nutritious meal. Akutaq was fuel for outdoor work in cold weather.
Today, akutaq is a favorite treat at potlucks and celebrations. People freeze ripe berries to make the dish throughout the year, and mix both wild and store bought ingredients together. Crisco, mashed potato flakes, and canned milk are popular additions. Some people even mix pilot bread into their akutaq! Before you eat, however, it is a Yup’ik tradition to take a pinch of the mixture and throw it in the fire, so that the ancestors can eat as well.
Photo: a pot of duck soup.
Akinka nangluki tamaakenka. - I lost all of my money.
With the development of a cash economy in the historic era, Kodiak Alutiiqs found opportunities to earn money. Until the turn of the twentieth century, Alutiiq families sustained themselves largely through subsistence activities, earning small amounts of money through trapping and reinvesting these funds in hunting and fishing equipment.
This pattern changed with the development of canneries and cannery stores. As people spent more time working in canneries, families became more dependent on the fishing industry for cash and credit. Canneries rented Alutiiqs the equipment they needed to catch and sell fish, and they provided processing jobs. In return, wages provided money to purchase the food, clothing, and supplies needed for the coming year. Because canneries were a source of both income and goods, people moved to be near them, focusing the Alutiiq population around commercial enterprises. Kodiak’s current Alutiiq villages have all been associated with canneries at one time.
Today, many Alutiiq families continue to earn money through the fishing industry, although tourism-based jobs are becoming more common. There are a limited number of wage-earning positions in rural communities, but residents work seasonally in canneries, staff post offices, work at community schools, act as public safety officers, complete administrative work for their tribal councils and Native corporations, and generate income by producing artwork.
Apaangcuk Anwigmi et’aallria. - Father Herman lived at Monk’s Lagoon.
Monk’s Lagoon is a tiny, tree-ringed cove at the southeastern end of Spruce Island, about fifteen miles north of Kodiak harbor. It is named for Father Herman, a beloved Russian Orthodox monk who established a hermitage there in 1818. Father Herman ran a small school and an orphanage in Monk’s Lagoon, where he is believed to have performed miracles. He lived at the lagoon until his death in 1837. In 1935 another orthodox religious leader, Father Gerasim Schmaltz, moved to Monk’s Lagoon.
Today, Monk’s Lagoon is the site of an annual pilgrimage. Every August 9, the anniversary of Herman’s 1970 canonization by the Orthodox Church of America, the faithful return to the lagoon to celebrate his life. After gathering at the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church in Kodiak, they proceed to Kodiak Harbor where fishermen provide free transportation to Spruce Island.
Participants in the pilgrimage attend mass in the small wooden chapel, visit the graves of beloved local priests Father Gerasim Schmaltz and Father Peter Kreta, explore trails, and picnic. Many people also take a handful of dirt from beneath the chapel where Father Herman was buried until his canonization or fill bottles with water from a nearby spring, because the soil and water are believed to have curative powers.
Visits to Monk’s Lagoon aren’t limited to August 9. Families from nearby Ouzinkie often celebrate the Fourth of July by picnicking in the area, many people make spiritual visits on their own, and tourists can contact the church reader in Ouzinkie to arrange a tour of this sacred place.
Photo: Small chapel at Monk's Lagoon. Courtesy Tim and Norman Smith.
Unugpak iraluq tatartuq. - Tonight the moon is full.
In classical Alutiiq cosmology, there are five sky worlds, layered one on top of the other. The fifth sky world, farthest from earth, is the most pure. This is the home of Llam Sua, the Alutiiq supreme being. The first sky world, closest to earth, contains the moon, the stars, and the northern lights. Alutiiq tradition holds that the moon is a man who wears a different mask each night. At dusk, he enters a cave, changes his clothes, and puts on the mask for that evening. When the moon is eclipsed, the man is said to be wearing grease that darkens his face. When the eclipse fades, he has cleaned himself.
Legend tells how the moon met a girl and carried her to his sky world. They were married and he took good care of her. She became angered, however, when he would not tell her where he went each night. One night, she set off on her own to explore the sky world. She came to a house with a curtain and looked behind it. Here she found masks representing the different phases of the moon. She put a nearly full moon up to her face and it stuck. From then on, she became her husband’s assistant, sharing the work of the moon with him.
Photo: Moon mask by Perry Eaton. Alutiiq Museum collections.
Maani Sun’ami tunturpanek piitukut. - Here on Kodiak we don’t have moose.
Moose (Alces alces) are the biggest member of the deer family. These large-bodied, long-legged creatures are known for their droopy nose and dewlap: a flap of hair-covered skin beneath their chins. Only the males have antlers. Moose live in forests across North America, Europe, and Russia. In Alaska they can be found from the southeast Panhandle to the Arctic Slope. Throughout this area, the animals prefer habitats with dense shrubs, including river valleys and recently burned areas.
Moose have been part of the Alaska landscape for thousands of years, but despite their enduring, widespread availability, they are not broadly found in the Alutiiq world. Moose are native to the Kenai Peninsula, but they do not occur in the Kodiak Archipelago and only stray into western parts of Prince William Sound. Similarly, archaeological data indicate that moose were not part of the Alaska Peninsula landscape until the twentieth century. Moose spread into the Alaska Peninsula in the early 1900s, becoming relatively common by the 1930s.
Today, moose are a popular source of food in Alaska Peninsula Alutiiq communities on both the Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea coasts. Residents hunt moose from August to April, with peak harvesting in December. Moose are often taken while caribou hunting, and like caribou meat, moose meat is widely shared. Sharing is not only an important social practice, it is a good way to manage the sudden acquisition of a large quantity of meat.
Photo: Hunter with moose antlers, Dog Salmon River, Alaska Peninsula, ca. 1960. Nekeferof Collection.
Uruq mecuutaartuq. - The moss is always wet.
Today, hundreds of species of mosses grow in the coastal environments of the Gulf of Alaska, thriving on wet ground, tree trunks, branches, rocks, and even in freshwater. These soft, fluffy plants absorb water through their leaves and stems, making them an excellent source of spongy material.
In Alutiiq, the word uruq means both moss and diaper, reflecting the use of moss in swaddling babies. Moss collected from the ground was washed and dried, then stuffed into an infant’s clothing, cradle, and carrier. Elders remember this practice and note that people often collected moss in the warm season and saved quantities of it for winter use. Absorbent mosses also served as toilet paper and menstrual pads, lined vegetable roasting pits, functioned as wicks for stone oil lamps, and were employed in processing seal skins for kayak covers. People laid wet moss on seal skins to loosen the hair so they could be easily scraped clean.
Drier mosses, collected from trees, were a source of insulation. Because this moss does not shrink with age, people stuffed it into cracks in sod houses, used it in thatching roofs, and added it to clothing. A layer of moss increased the warmth of hats, mittens, and boots. Campers also piled tree moss on branches and covered the pile with a grass mat to make a comfortable temporary mattress.
Photo: Moss covered Sitka spruce trees, Fort Abercrombie, Kodiak Island.
Aanama qunukaanga. - My mother loves me.
Motherhood in classical Alutiiq society began at an early age. Alutiiq girls were considered adults at the time of their first menstruation, ready for marriage and child rearing after the completion of a ritual seclusion. This seclusion took place in a special hut, or in later time, a girl's bedroom. It lasted from several weeks to several months, conspicuously marking the passage out of childhood.
Children were highly coveted in Alutiiq society. Russian reports suggest that it was common for Alutiiq women to have four or five children, and women with babies were thought to be lucky. Women who failed to get pregnant were said to have dark insides. Such women consulted shamans who offered fertility charms and spiritual intervention. A doll from an archaeological site in Karluk may be such a charm. It features a very pregnant woman with her hands at the small of her back and enlarged genitals. The doll appears to be in labor. A Russian source also indicates that women who wanted children carried dolls, caring for them like babies.
Mothers had many special roles. A boy gave his first kills to his mothers, which she displayed at a celebratory festival. Mothers also helped their children arrange marriages. A boy's mother would approach the mother of the girl he wished to marry, to ask permission for the union. In turn, the girl's mother would question the boy's mother to determine if her son was a good provider.
Photo: LaRita Laktonen with her baby daughter at the Alutiiq Museum.
Ing'it patumaut aniumek. - The mountains are covered with snow.
Some of Kodiak’s most beautiful features are its rugged mountains. Carved by glacial ice over the past hundred thousand years, these mountains are a continuation of the Kenai Peninsula’s Chugach Range and part of the dramatic belt of coastal peaks that curve southward to Prince of Wales Island in southeast Alaska. Kodiak’s mountains rise to altitudes of more than four thousand feet. They create a dramatic landscape. Throughout the archipelago, steep-sided valleys rise directly out of the ocean at the back of narrow coastal fjords.
Although Alutiiqs have always built their villages along the coast, Kodiak’s mountainous interior is economically, socially, and spiritually important. The mountains contain valuable resources. Here, people hunt bears and ptarmigan, pick plant foods, fill baskets with alpine berries, and even harvest wood. In the hills surrounding some communities people cut alder branches, tie them in bundles, and roll the bundles downhill. The mountains are also avenues for travel. People once hiked up to ridge tops to follow trails across the island. Large cairns, stacks of stones piled along these ridges, may have been used as route markers.
Photo: A Kodiak Island mountain surrounded by morning fog.